Friday, 29 October 2010
Wednesday, 13 October 2010
To structure or not to structure, that is the question.
The people I mix with have got somewhat bored with, and no longer wish to think about or discuss church structure. That’s rather a shame as I believe it’s important and perhaps seminal to the current time and the cultural collapse.
If pressed into a debate they say that it doesn’t matter what form of ecclesiology the ‘local’ church takes as long as we love God. The problem I have with this train of thought, the sentiment of which I understand, is that tradition and form often has a huge molding effect on our thinking and thus our actions. And as we know, wrong thinking leads to wrong actions, and wrong principals to wrong values.
There are also those who constantly plead for a return to New Testament church practice, as if we know precisely how it was organised, and even if we did, are we going to avoid development and live in the past? A problem with this debate is that they don’t distinguish donkeys from Daimlers or a slave based structure from a democratic society. They also seem to overlook the problems experienced by the early church and its practices, much of the New Testament was written to correct such practices and problems.
As I often say to theology students, beavering away on their degrees, with ambitions to take up positions overseeing a local community following their graduation. ‘Hmmm… not quite sure your ideas would work out too smoothly in a church in ancient Corinth; I don’t think I would want to be a leader sorting out those crazy values.’ But idealistic students do tend to have this rosy view of what church life is like, and have very black and white answers on how to deal ‘theologically correctly’ with problems.
So we have this rejection of structure, and as I have stated above, I do have sympathy for this point of view when I see what some ‘structured churches’ are like, or what I would call organised religion, but I don’t believe it’s the structure that is at fault. As human beings we need structure and regularity in our lives even if it is only to remember a basic requirement like cleaning our teeth each day.
If you look at history in general and church history in particular you can see how it ebbs and flows, there will come a time of refreshment, increased knowledge of God, a renewing of horizontal and vertical relationships but then gradually man takes over and it solidifies, stultifies, settles and secularises. This says more about our sinful nature that seeks money, power and sex, than about the structure. Ultimately we can even end up allowing God’s power to corrupt us so that we rule and lord it over people, bringing them under our control rather than into God’s love and freedom. Eventually the organisation or denomination takes on a life of its own, often far removed from Godly values. Power rules and people ask the legitimate question ‘is this how a simple follower of Jesus would act?’
We need to remember the foundational building block which is, Jesus said, ‘I will build my church.’ Perhaps we think that as he has gone away that we should now take up the baton, and when we do that, what a mess we make. This is because we confuse the ‘church’ with the ‘kingdom’. God told us to seek the kingdom and he will build the church. The church is not the kingdom and the kingdom is not the church. The church should be seeking the kingdom, which is so much bigger than the church. We get sidetracked building the church, when actually we should be seeking the kingdom.
The challenge therefore is to be kingdom-minded; here are a couple of quotations which you may find helpful as you take up this challenge;
“The church gets into trouble whenever it thinks it is in the church business rather than the Kingdom business. In the church business, people are concerned with church activities, religious behavior and spiritual things. In the Kingdom business, people are concerned with Kingdom activities, all human behavior and everything God has made, visible and invisible. Church people think about how to get people into the church, kingdom people think about how to get the kingdom into the world.
Church people worry that the world might change the church, Kingdom people work to see the church change the world!” Howard Snyder.
“The Kingdom is a dynamic greater than the church. If you pursue the church you won’t find the Kingdom, but if you pursue the Kingdom you will find the church.” Simon Markham.
For Adrian's Blog
Editor A. Brookes
Tuesday, 12 October 2010
Monday, 4 October 2010
At the end of the Pope’s visit I present to you my Pope stories…..
I have lots of stories about my wife, her antics are a mine of interest and humour, let me share a couple with you.
Story one - Who is he
Some years ago I had a friend, let’s call him Scott (not his real name), he was South African. When we were in South Africa we stayed at his home and consequently got to know him well. He even used to lend me his car so that we could explore the country. Some years later my rather famous friend was appointed as a special representative to the Vatican, speaking on behalf of his religious denomination.
As Scott was attending many meetings in Rome on behalf of his denomination it became very newsworthy, and one day, on the front cover of an international magazine, a photograph was published of Scott with the man who was Pope at the time; inside was a large spread all about the work he was doing.
My wife and I and a group of friends were in central London and we walked past a newsagents; the window display was of this same magazine, along with the photograph of Scott and the Pope. Pauline scrutinised the picture, then turned to our friends to say, ‘We know him, that’s our friend Scott, but who is that man with him, the one in the funny dress?’
Story two Ignorance is bliss
A couple of years ago my wife kindly treated me to a trip to Rome as part of my birthday celebrations. If you a doing the sights in Rome, you must, or course, visit the tiny nearby country called ‘Vatican City’ which, as it happens, is the smallest country in the world. We wandered around taking in the sights and sounds and inspected the Swiss Guard. Pauline noticed that there was a meeting of some kind taking place in the chapel.
She was keen to go in, I was not, but as she had treated me to this trip I thought it best to tag along. It was obviously some sort of celebratory mass, not that I understand much about Catholic ecclesiology. There was a crowd of people at the front of the chapel and we watched as a procession of men moved down the isle, one of them had on a very large pointed had. Pauline asked ‘Is that the Pope?’ ‘No,’ I replied, ‘but he might be one day; I think he’s an archbishop judging by the special hat.’
We found a couple of empty seats and sat down. Pauline then decided that if they were doing communion then she was going to join in at the front. I told her, ‘it’s for Catholics’, but she was having none of it, saying ‘I follow Jesus so I’m sure I must be included.’ She headed off to the front. I sat tight.
There was a large multi-national crowd at the front, the man in the big hat was moving along the rows of people with a container of wafers, which he was placing on outstretched tongues. As he placed each one he said, ‘bless you my child’. Pauline wanted to return the favour, so she put her hand on him in order that she could bless him back. In a trice, the plain clothes security squad was at his side, to protect him from perceived danger.
Once the members of the crowd had received communion they began returning to their seats, whereupon I found that Catholic love and grace does not extend to someone who has pinched their seat, I was swiftly ejected from my perch, and was made to feel I had committed a heinous crime. I managed to squeeze in at the end of the row just as Pauline returned. The procession now weaved it’s way out of the chapel and Pauline noticed that the man in the big hat was waving at her (or so she thought, he was, in fact, pronouncing a blessing on the assembled crowd) and she began waving back frantically at her new found friend.
I perceived rapid, shadowy movements out of the corner of my eye, so I put my hand in the small of her back, began propelling her to the exit and hissed, ‘It’s time to leave, NOW!” before it’s too late and the plain clothes security squad arrested you as a trouble-maker.
For Blog Spot
Editor A. Brookes